DDMA Headline Animator

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Turkey pushes case for ground operations as Kurds advance

February 17, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Turkey said Tuesday it is pressing for ground operations in Syria, hoping for the involvement of the U.S. and other allies as a force dominated by Kurdish fighters pushed through rebel lines and captured more territory near the Turkish border.

In Damascus, the U.N. envoy to Syria suggested that humanitarian aid would be allowed into several besieged areas Wednesday, calling it the "duty of the government of Syria." "Tomorrow we test this," Staffan de Mistura said after meeting with Syria's foreign minister. The U.N. later announced the government of President Bashar Assad has approved access to seven such areas across the country and that convoys would head out in the coming days.

De Mistura has been trying to secure aid deliveries to improve the chances of restarting peace talks before the end of February. But those efforts have been clouded by the intense fighting north of Aleppo, where various forces backed by regional and international rivals are clashing over a crucial strip of land linking Syria's largest city to the border with Turkey.

Syrian government troops and allied militias, backed by heavy Russian bombardment, are closing in on the area, hoping to seal off parts of Aleppo held by rebels since 2012 in what would be a major blow to the opposition. Syria's state news agency SANA and opposition activists said government forces have seized two more villages.

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which had mainly battled the Islamic State group and remained largely neutral in the civil war, are advancing in the same region, fighting rebels and other insurgents opposed to Assad in a bid to expand a nearby enclave.

A Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul that his country is pushing for ground operations in Syria, hoping for the involvement of the U.S. and other allies against IS. "Without ground operations, it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria," the official said, adding that Turkey has pressed the issue in recent discussions with the U.S. and other Western nations.

But he ruled out the possibility of Turkey undertaking unilateral action or the prospect of a joint Saudi-Turkish venture without broader consensus in the U.S.-led coalition against IS. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

In Lebanon, the leader of Hezbollah said Turkey and Saudi Arabia are using the fight against IS as a "pretext" to launch a ground operation in Syria. Both countries are ready to start a regional and international war because of defeats suffered by rebels they support, said Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, addressing supporters in Beirut via satellite link from his hideout elsewhere in the city. Hezbollah's fighters are in Syria, supporting Assad's forces.

The main Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, dominates the group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab fighters. The latest advances by the SDF have alarmed Ankara, which views Syria's Kurds with suspicion. Turkey is also a leading backer of militants trying to overthrow Assad.

SDF official Ahmad Hiso said Turkish troops shelled northern Syria. Since the shelling began three days ago, six civilians have been killed, including a woman and a child, he added. The Kurdish forces have continued to advance, however, and the SDF captured the village of Sheikh Issa, cutting lines between the rebel stronghold of Marea and other parts of Aleppo province.

The SDF have also captured the major town of Tel Rifaat, formerly one of the largest militant strongholds in the province, as well as the village of Kfar Naseh to the south. SDF official Ahmad al-Omar said dignitaries from northern Syria are mediating a deal to open a corridor for militants to leave Marea for the northern town of Azaz near the border. The move would lead to SDF forces entering Marea without fighting in what would save the town from wide destruction by Russian warplanes.

Once in Marea, SDF forces would face off against IS. The SDF has been one of the most effective forces in fighting the extremists and has liberated large parts of northern Syria. Turkey, a NATO member and part of the U.S.-directed coalition conducting airstrikes against IS, views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Ankara and is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and other Western nations.

Russia, meanwhile, denied accusations it carried out airstrikes on a Syrian hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders that killed at least 11 people Monday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other opposition activist groups had said Russian warplanes targeted the hospital in Idlib province.

In a conference call with journalists, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said those making the allegations should rely on the "primary source" — official announcements from the Syrian government.

Syria's U.N. ambassador told reporters his government has "credible information" that the U.S.-led alliance struck the hospital. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said it was not a U.S. attack. The Syrian ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, also accused Doctors Without Borders of being a branch of French intelligence. The hospital was installed without prior consultation with the government, and the aid group must "assume the full consequences of their act because ... they did not operate with the Syrian government permission," he said.

The U.S., Russia and other world powers agreed Feb. 12 in Munich to bring about a pause in hostilities that would allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the revival of peace talks. The projected truce was to begin at the end of this week but is still very much in doubt.

Associated Press writer Lynn Berry in Moscow, Albert Aji in Damascus, Dominique Soguel in Istanbul, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Turkey air force begins defense exercises with Saudi Arabia


ANKARA - Turkey's air force on Monday began five days of air defense exercises with Saudi Arabia, the Turkish military said, as the two countries forge an increasingly tight alliance on Syria.

Six Saudi F-15 fighter jets will take part in the air defense training in the central Turkish region of Konya, the military said in a statement.

The exercises are within the framework of cooperation and military training between the two countries and had been scheduled in advance, it added. They will last until Friday.

But the start of the exercises comes just two days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Saudi jets would be based at Turkey's air base of Incirlik in Adana province to fight Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

He also said that Turkey and Saudi could even launch a ground operation in Syria against ISIS, while emphasizing no decision had been taken.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey both see the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as essential for ending Syria's five-year civil war and are bitterly critical of Iran and Russia's support of the Syrian regime.

The two overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim powers have in recent months moved to considerably tighten relations that had been damaged by Riyadh's role in the 2013 ousting of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a close ally of Ankara.

Turkey and Saudi back rebels who are seeking to oust Assad and both fear the West is losing its appetite to topple Assad on the assumption he is "the lesser of two evils" compared to the ISIS jihadists.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=75265.

Voting starts in Uganda election seen as challenge to leader

February 18, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandans voted Thursday in presidential elections seen as the toughest challenge yet for the country's long-time president, who faces seven opponents. The voting was marred by delays because of the late delivery of voting materials in many places, especially in the capital Kampala, and many people complained of an apparent shutdown of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook when they couldn't open those sites on their computers and phones.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the head of the Uganda Communications Commission, said the network failure was likely due to an ongoing operation to contain a security threat. "It's a security matter and I cannot answer on behalf of security," he told The Associated Press.

President Yoweri Museveni faces a strong challenge from Kizza Besigye, who has called Museveni a dictator and told reporters earlier this week that he does not believe voting will be free or fair. More than 15 million people are registered to vote. Ugandans are also choosing lawmakers.

There were long lines at many polling stations in Kampala, with people complaining loudly about the delays. Some ballot boxes had missing lids, stranding voting officials who frantically made calls. "We are late simply because the lids for ballot boxes are not here. The boxes and the lids should have arrived at the same time," said Moses Omo, an official who was presiding over voting at a Catholic church in the central Ugandan district of Wakiso.

Despite the delays, which lasted over an hour at some polling stations, many potential voters said they would not leave without voting. "This is very disappointing but I am going to stay here under the sun until it is my turn to vote," said Fred Mubiru, a taxi driver. "Nothing will discourage me."

Although opinion polls had shown Museveni to be ahead of his opponents, analysts expect this election to be his toughest yet, citing the massive crowds Besigye attracted across the country. Museveni, 71, remains popular in some parts of rural Uganda, where he is seen as a father figure and is beloved by those who remember his time as a guerrilla leader fighting a dictatorship.

He came to power in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos. He is widely credited with restoring peace and presiding over economic growth, and is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. But his critics worry that he may want to rule for life, and accuse him of using the security forces to intimidate the opposition.

Besigye, 59, is running for the fourth time against Museveni. He campaigned on a promise to run a more effective government, vowing to stem official corruption. He said he will continue "the struggle" in other ways if he loses, suggesting a protest movement similar to the one that followed the last election in 2011. That movement was violently put down by security forces.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said a weak "human rights situation seriously undermines the prospects of free and fair elections and the ability of Ugandans to exercise fundamental human rights such as free expression, assembly, and association."

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also reported "a worsening pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists" in Uganda. Ahead of the polls, there has been a heavy security presence in Kampala, with heavily armed police patrolling the streets and armored vehicles parked at key junctions.

Syria Kurds revive native language with new curriculum


QAMISHLI (Syria) - Lined up in a chilly schoolyard in northeast Syria, primary school students say good morning to their teachers in the Kurdish language before rushing inside for class: "Roj bas, mamuste!"

The Kurdish language was once banned by the government in Damascus, but now the local semi-autonomous government has rolled out an entire curriculum for primary school students in Kurdish in parts of the territory under its control.

The curriculum is currently being taught alongside the government's Arabic-language program at institutions like the Musa Bin Nasir School in the city of Qamishli.

"I'm learning and writing the Kurdish alphabet in my notebook," said six-year-old Brefa Hussein proudly.

"Our teachers tell us stories and teach us the names of animals and flowers," said Brefa, whose parents were forbidden from learning Kurdish.

The new curriculum has been developed by the autonomous Kurdish administration, which runs its own government institutions, security forces and now schools in parts of northern and northeast Syria.

The administration took over when government forces withdrew from Kurdish areas in 2012, a year after Syria's popular uprising erupted.

There were around three million Kurds in Syria before the war, though not all identified primarily as Kurdish.

The minority was heavily discriminated against prior to Syria's uprising, with their language banned in official contexts and hundreds of thousands denied passports and banned from public sector jobs.

But with the withdrawal of government forces from majority Kurdish areas, the minority has begun to assert itself, including reviving its language.

Bundled in coats and hats to stay warm, children sprint into different classrooms at the school.

While Arab students will follow the existing Arabic program developed by Syria's government, Kurdish students now study a Kurdish curriculum that their own administration began implementing in the 2015-2016 academic year.

More than 86,000 students are being taught by about 3,830 instructors in schools run by the autonomous administration, says deputy head of education Samira Haj Ali.

The new curriculum has already been rolled out for primary school students, though older pupils are still studying the government's curriculum until an alternative is developed.

Haj Ali says the autonomous administration eventually plans to also implement its own Arabic- and Syriac-language curricula next year.

It has set up teaching institutes to train instructors on the Kurdish curriculum and is planning to open similar centers once its Arabic and Syriac programs are ready.

The administration's move has been controversial: Syria's government has shuttered its schools in the affected areas and refused to pay teachers using the Kurdish curriculum.

And even some Kurdish parents have pulled their children out of the new independent schools.

Amina Berro, an English language teacher and a Kurd, transferred her children to a government-run school in protest at the new Kurdish program.

Her children were studying the Arabic curriculum, but she said she was uncomfortable having the new programs side-by-side.

"The Kurdish curricula is not recognized and the teachers are not capable enough," she said.

Berro said she supports teaching the Kurdish language as a subject matter, but not an entire curriculum being taught in the language.

Some of the students in Qamishli's schools are Arabs displaced from elsewhere in the country.

Nine-year-old Riham al-Ahmad and her family sought safety there after fleeing clashes in Syria's second city Aleppo.

After trying the Kurdish curriculum, she moved to the Arabic section at Musa Bin Nasir.

"I'm really happy when I'm with my classmates. In the beginning, it was hard to get used to them. Qamishli is a foreign city for me and people speak a language I don't understand," she said.

"But now things are easier because I understand very well," she added excitedly.

For Kurdish families, learning the native language represents the realization of a childhood dream.

Jana Musa, a 21-year-old Kurdish language teacher, said she hopes "that all students will learn their mother tongue".

"We're teaching them the alphabet and the subject of social issues," Musa said, wearing a thick green coat as she corrected students' assignments.

Jamil Murad, a 44-year old director, learned the Kurdish language in secret while growing up.

He is thrilled that his eight-year-old son, Raman, can now do the same in the open.

"Language is part of the survival of a people," he said.

In a candle-lit room in northeast Syria, Murad was helping Raman complete his homework.

For Murad, teaching the Kurdish language is an investment in his people's future.

"The biggest achievement by the autonomous administration... was in teaching tens of thousands of its children their mother tongue," he said.

"They are our future, even if the scales are tipped against us."

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=75244.

Support Builds for Syrian National Council

Elizabeth Whitman

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 10 2011 (IPS) - What was once a glaring weakness in the seven-month Syrian revolution and uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is now slowly transforming into one of its strengths with the coalescence of opposition groups into the Syrian National Council (SNC) earlier this month.

Yet many questions and concerns about strategies, both domestic and international, remain, especially in the wake of the latest failure in the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

On Oct. 2, the SNC convened in Istanbul to announce its official formation, outline its structure and goals, and publish a founding statement.

Members of the international community have welcomed its creation, even as the Syrian government threatened “tough measures” against countries that recognized the opposition council.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Monday that France intends to establish relations with the SNC, while the European Union hailed its formation, calling it a “positive step”.

Syrians began protesting in March 2011, calling for reforms and an end to government corruption, among other demands. The Syrian government initially responded with promises of reform that went unfulfilled. As protests grew, it turned to tanks and bullets in a brutal crackdown that has killed nearly 3,000 civilians, according to U.N. estimates.

Fledgling opposition

A core of the national council was announced in mid-September, followed by negotiations to include more political groups.

The SNC, with a general assembly membership of 230, and executive committee of 29 and presidential committee of seven, spans the political spectrum from leftists to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Four Kurdish and one Assyrian representative are among those included in the 29-member executive committee. Many Christians, Druz and Alawite are also members.

The council’s immediate concern is “having a well-founded and solid entity”, Monajed said. Until the leadership and structure is finalized, the council is not seeking meetings with world leaders.

The organisation’s vision is the “formation of a national body to represent the Syrian Revolution, embody its aspiration in toppling the regime, achieve democratic change, and build a modern civil state”, according to a council document.

It sees itself as a “political umbrella for the Syrian revolution in the international arenas” that aims to “deliver the message of the Syrian people in the field of international diplomacy”.

Saying that it was “inspired by previous initiatives and attempts at unifying opposition groups”, the council subtly acknowledged the difficulties, especially over the past six months, to consolidate Syrian opposition.

“It’s an agreement in terms of all the committees on the ground and it’s an agreement in terms of all the opposition,” an activist, who goes by the pseudonym of Alexander Page, told IPS.

Based in Damascus until early October, Page escaped Syria after he learned his identity had been compromised. He has been on CNN, Huffington Post and other outlets.

Page’s perspective was that a better opposition council could not be formed at this point. “After this, there’s not going to be any council that’s going to go through,” he said.

Politically, the council’s immediate concern is “having a well- founded and solid national council”, Ausama Monajed, a member of the council, told IPS. Until the leadership and structure is finalized, the council is not seeking meetings with world leaders.

In both its declaration and the words of Ghalioun, the Council has explicitly rejected foreign intervention “that undermines the sovereignty of the Syrian people”, as Ghalioun said.

Page, who was involved and remains in contact with various revolution groups on the ground in Syria, said that the SNC has garnered notable popular support domestically.

Intervention: a highly sensitive topic

A wide array of concerns accompanies discussion of international intervention, which remains a prominent issue that is highly sensitive both in Syria and for the international community because of the Syria regime’s domestic propaganda campaign and because of the looming shadow of NATO’s military intervention in Libya.

The Syrian government has claimed since March that armed gangs are launching attacks inside the country and that Syrian security forces have responded by quelling those attacks.

Aiming to discredit the international community, the Syrian government would use international intervention to support its claims that foreign governments are trying to undermine Syrian sovereignty. Giving the Syrian government the opportunity to legitimize those claims through foreign intervention could be detrimental.

Many, Syrians included, are wary of any intervention that could follow in the footsteps of NATO’s in Libya.

At most, the SNC would call for would a no-fly zone or possibly a buffer zone, Page said.

But Monajed emphasized that from the international community, the SNC would seek measures to ensure civilian protection, such as a Security Council resolution that called for U.N. observers that might help prevent some of the violence.

Similarly, the international community should “protect the civilians by all the legal means commensurate with the U.N. charter and international conventions”, Hozan Ibrahim, spokesperson for the coordinating network Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) of Syria and member of the SNC, told IPS.

Complications in the Security Council

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has been criticized as it struggles to find a unified voice condemning the violence, civilian deaths, arbitrary arrests and torture.

Most recently, a rare double veto by China and Russia on Oct. 4 thwarted a Western-backed resolution that would have condemned Syrian authorities’ “continued grave and systematic human rights violations” and called for a “an inclusive Syrian-led political process” free from violence and intimidation.

In addition to the Russian and Chinese vetoes, Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained – results that indicate underwhelming international solidarity regarding how to respond to the current situation in Syria.

Russia has strong business ties to Syria. Reuters reported in August 2011 that Russia’s top arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, would continue selling arms to Syria.

The European Union (EU) and the U.S. have already imposed sanctions on Syria, and Turkey announced last week that it would as well.

“Russia is waiting for the right price to sell, unfortunately,” Monajed told IPS. For Russia, Syria is a matter of money, regional interest and influence, he said.

He said the SNC was hoping the West would be able to pressure or reach a deal with Russia to allow a Security Council resolution to pass that would permit U.N. observers into the country to help prevent civilian deaths and hold the Syrian government accountable.

Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, had no specific comment on the SNC’s formation, but noted, “The Secretary-General has called consistently, repeatedly, for there to be a dialogue, inclusive dialogue,” in Syria and so the SNC could be understood “in that context”.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/10/support-builds-for-syrian-national-council/.

Five years after uprising, jihadist expansion threatens Libya


TRIPOLI - Five years after the uprising began against dictator Moamer Gathafi, many Libyans have lost hope of seeing the rule of law return to a divided country threatened by jihadist expansion.

The Islamic State (IS) group has exploited the chaos engulfing the oil-rich North African nation since the 2011 revolution to gain a foothold and expand its influence.

Last June, it seized Gathafi's coastal home town of Sirte -- 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Tripoli -- and has since transformed it into a training camp for Libyan and foreign militants.

"The Islamic State likely sees Libya as the most favorable country in which to establish a regional hub of its caliphate," Ludovico Carlino of the IHS Jane's think-tank said.

With a port and airport, there are growing fears that IS -- which seized large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 -- may try to use Sirte as a base from which to attack Europe.

Despite the jihadist threat, there are also signs of hope on the political front.

On Monday, a UN-backed council of rival factions announced the formation of a revised government of national unity line-up to be put to lawmakers.

Approval of the cabinet -- headed by prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj -- would be a vital step in resolving Libya's political disarray, capping off months of difficult diplomacy.

"The journey to peace and unity of the Libyan people has finally started," UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler wrote on Twitter.

- Africa's largest oil reserves -

Beyond Libya's current political and security vacuum, "the availability of large stockpiles of weapons and porous borders, made it the main transit point for North African militants seeking to reach Syria and Iraq to wage jihad there," Carlino said.

The country also sits atop the largest oil reserves in Africa, estimated at 48 billion barrels, although output has slumped since 2011.

"The presence of large oil assets, the existence of well-established and lucrative smuggling routes to sub-Saharan Africa, and porous borders all make Libya as attractive as Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State, if not more so," Carlino said.

Last month, the group launched attacks from Sirte on facilities in the "oil crescent" along the coast.

The Soufan Group think-tank in a report last month said jihadists existed in Libya under Gathafi, but have thrived in the turmoil since his downfall.

"Libya has a long violent jihadist tradition dating back to the Soviet Afghan War, though the oppressive and authoritarian Gathafi regime was largely able to keep militant jihadist activities in check," it said.

"With the collapse of the regime, the long-suppressed militant Islamist factions sought to fill the resulting vacuum."

Since a coalition of Islamist-led militias overran Tripoli in August 2014, the country has had two administrations.

- Living day to day -

An Islamist-dominated legislature, the General National Congress, sits in Tripoli while the internationally recognized government has been driven to the country's far east.

As Libya on Wednesday marks five years since the uprising began, its people are still waiting for a panel elected in February 2014 to draft their first constitution since Gathafi seized power in 1969.

With anniversary preparations under way in Tripoli's Martyrs Square, the mood remains gloomy among many residents.

"The last five years have been nothing but one mistake after another," said Karima Leguel, a bank employee in her fifties.

"Our daily lives have become increasingly difficult. We have to plough on despite the high prices, no proper health care, long power cuts and -- recently -- no cash at the bank."

Libya's conflict has left 1.9 million people with serious health needs in a country that lacks medical professionals, medicines and vaccines, the World Health Organization said last month.

No foreign airline has flown to Tripoli since its airport was destroyed in summer 2014, and few countries allow Libyan aircraft to land on their soil.

Libyans who want to travel abroad struggle to obtain the required visas as most foreign missions have been closed for 18 months.

Florence, a Frenchwoman in her fifties who is married to a Libyan, said the cost of living was increasing and cashpoints were empty.

"We live day to day," the mother-of-two said. "But if things don't get better we'll leave."

"My greatest fear is that IS will reach Tripoli."

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=75270.

Poland's threat to strip scholar of state honor sparks anger

February 18, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A threat by Poland's president to strip an esteemed Polish-American scholar of a state honor in punishment for work that exposes uncomfortable historical episodes of Polish anti-Semitism has infuriated many people in Poland and abroad.

The office of President Andrzej Duda said recently it might strip Princeton-based historian and sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross of the Order of Merit he received in 1996 for his services as a dissident in communist Poland and his contributions to historical research.

The move against Gross is part of a broader effort by Poland's new conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, to focus on honorable episodes in Polish history and fight any messages that the new leaders feel are harmful to the country's image.

In an open letter, several Polish historians and other scholars said stripping Gross of the award would represent a threat against "freedom of scholarly research" and that Gross deserves only "gratitude and respect" for sparking needed debates about the past.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization, called Tuesday on the government "to stop the harassment" of Gross and said the move against him "appears to be a politically motivated attempt to intimidate and threaten all those who expose the history of anti-Semitism in Poland."

The move comes after Gross caused a huge uproar in Poland last year with a claim that Poles killed more Jews during the war than they did Germans, something that deeply offended a nation proud of its anti-Nazi resistance.

The government is also preparing a bill which could see five-year prison sentences for anyone found guilty of using the expression "Polish death camp" to refer to Auschwitz or other extermination sites that Nazi Germany operated in German-occupied Poland.

That phrase, infuriating to Poles, has been used from time to time by foreign journalists and politicians, including U.S. President Barack Obama. Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II and Poles were among those who were imprisoned and killed in the camps, and had no role in running them.

However, there were cases of Poles who killed Jews during the war, and Gross has touched a nerve in the country with books that expose some of those incidents, including the 1941 massacre in Jedwabne, which involved Poles burning Jews alive in a barn.

Liberal Poles accept the overwhelming evidence of Polish guilt in the Jedwabne massacre and have supported public apologies for it. But supporters of Law and Justice and other right-wing Poles argue that the Germans inspired the massacre and armed the local thugs — and that Polish society should not be saddled with the blame.

Germany revives calls for no-fly zone in northern Syria

February 17, 2016

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Germany revived calls Wednesday for a no-fly zone in northern Syria — an idea that once might have greatly helped the beleaguered rebels and protected civilians from bombardment but now is more complicated, dangerous and unlikely due to Russia's air campaign supporting President Bashar Assad.

The proposal came amid international efforts to coax at least a temporary truce and as the government allowed humanitarian aid to head for besieged areas around the country, part of an effort described by a Russian official as a first step toward implementation of an agreement reached among world powers in Munich last week.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura has been trying to secure aid deliveries and to improve the chances of restarting peace talks before the end of February. But those efforts have been clouded by a major government offensive north of Aleppo, where various forces backed by regional and international rivals are clashing over a crucial strip of land linking Syria's largest city to the border with Turkey.

The violence in Aleppo, which has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing toward the border, led to the collapse of indirect talks between the Syrian government and its opponents earlier this month. It appears also to have revived a longstanding proposal to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria, which was floated repeatedly by Turkey and other Assad opponents throughout the 5-year-old war.

A no-fly zone would potentially create a safe haven for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians and help stem the flow of refugees to Europe. But Washington has long rejected the idea, fearing it would draw U.S. forces further into the civil war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support Tuesday for the idea and repeated it Wednesday in parliament. She said it could be done by an agreement with Assad, his backers and the coalition fighting the Islamic State group — a proposal that analysts say is now unrealistic and more an attempt to appease Turkey.

At a news conference, Merkel said such an agreement would be "a sign of good will," suggesting she was referring to a more informal deal to halt aerial attacks, and that this could help lead to the overall cessation of hostilities agreed upon in Munich.

Enforcing a no-fly zone has become considerably more difficult since Moscow began its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov shrugged off Merkel's proposal, saying it would require Damascus' consent and U.N. Security Council approval.

Asked by reporters about Merkel's initiative, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov snapped: "It's not Merkel's initiative, it's Turkey's initiative." Kristian Brakel, an expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations, said Merkel's idea could be directed at Turkey, which sees "all their stakes in the Syrian war are just floating away."

Olaf Boehnke, a political scientist with the MERICS think tank in Berlin and former head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the idea could even be more for a domestic audience in Germany, where Merkel has been under increasing pressure to slow the flood of asylum seekers.

"My gut feeling is there's not even a lot of conceptual thinking behind it," he said. "Maybe it's even wishful thinking, because if you look into the technical details of a no-fly zone like we've seen in Libya, it's quite complicated."

A U.S.-led bombing campaign helped oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, but that came with a resolution from the U.N. Security Council and agreement among NATO's 28 members. Such a scenario is almost impossible to imagine in Syria. Moscow has made it clear that it won't sign off on any such mission and has exercised its veto to block all efforts at the Security Council to sanction Damascus, its closest ally in the Middle East.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the U.S. for not backing his country's proposals, adding that a no-fly zone would have prevented Russia's air campaign in the region and saved the lives of thousands of civilians.

"Oh America! You did not say 'yes' to 'no-fly zone.' Now the Russian planes are running wild over there, and thousands and tens of thousands of victims are dying," Erdogan said. "Weren't we coalition forces? Weren't we to act together?"

His words reflected the resentment felt by Syrian rebels, who believe a no-fly zone would have robbed Assad of his biggest asset, the aerial bombardment. Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said not enforcing a no-fly zone is the "single biggest mistake" the West has made in Syria.

"Had the West intervened early on and denied Assad the ability to bomb his own citizens, the moderate opposition would have been ascendant and the radical opposition would not have gained as much traction," he said. Five years later and with the Russian air campaign, it is "more difficult, more complicated, more expensive and less likely," he said.

The U.S., Russia and other world powers agreed Feb. 12 on a deal calling for the ceasing of hostilities within a week, the delivery of urgently needed aid to besieged areas of Syria and a return to peace talks in Geneva.

Gatilov said "the implementation of the Munich agreements on (the) Syrian settlement has started." A working group on humanitarian access to the besieged areas has met and is to again meet Thursday to take stock on the status of access to the areas under siege., according to de Mistura's office.

Moscow expects that another working group to deal with specifics of the planned truce would start working this week, according to a Russian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the envoy was not authorized to talk to the media due to the sensitivity of the discussions. The diplomat said the Russian side is ready for that.

Hopes of a temporary cessation of hostilities — due to start Thursday, according to the Munich agreement — have all but faded. At least 25 people have been killed in an airstrike on a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders in northern Syria, the group said.

The U.N.-facilitated aid operation was going ahead, a development that U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York was "an incredibly important first step." "We've had a lot of conferences, we've had a lot of speeches and commitments," Dujarric said. "I think the Syrian people want to see hard evidence that these conferences serve a purpose."

After a delay, more than 100 trucks headed to the besieged areas. Convoys of food, medicine and other assistance reached the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani, northwest of the capital, while a 35-truck convoy was to deliver aid to the rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh southwest of Damascus.

According to the agreement, aid would simultaneously be delivered to two communities in the northern province of Idlib that are under sieged by rebels. "Today, we reached five besieged towns in urgent need of humanitarian assistance," said Yacoub el-Hillo, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Syria.

The aid was expected to reach over 100,000 people, said Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The convoys represent the third aid delivery to the blockaded communities after two other efforts last month. The U.N. estimates that 18 Syrian communities are under siege, affecting about half a million people.

Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Top EU politician applauds Merkel's migrant stance

February 17, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has received a strong vote of support from a top European politician for her leadership on the migration crisis. Merkel's open-door stance to asylum-seekers has been under increasing pressure at home, including from within her own conservative bloc, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says "Angela Merkel will outlast all of her current critics in office."

Juncker told Bild newspaper Wednesday "chancellors have always been recognized for staying the course in turbulent times. I'm thinking above all of the visionary reunification policies of Helmut Kohl — history has showed he was right and it will also show Angela Merkel is right."

Juncker says he hopes other leaders at an EU summit take her stance that the refugee crisis can only be solved by working together.

Austria places Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia on list of 'safe countries of origin'


VIENNA - Austria announced Monday it will place six nations including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on its list of "safe countries of origin", as it seeks to curb the number of economic migrants.

The decision, which will also see Georgia, Ghana and Mongolia added to the list, was taken after the government carried out a "thorough examination of the situation", the interior ministry said.

"In the case of economic migrants, we need unambiguous signals that there is no protection for them in Austria," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner warned.

The cabinet will sign off on the decision during its weekly meeting Tuesday.

Last month, neighboring Germany -- the favored destination for most migrants -- also declared Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia safe countries of origin.

The classification means that their citizens will have little chance of being granted asylum.

It will also allow Vienna to speed up case procedures and deport migrants more quickly.

The combined number of arrivals in Austria from Algeria and Morocco remains well below the 2,000-mark -- a tiny fraction of the 55,000 Syrians and Iraqis who sought asylum between January and November last year.

In total, the nation of almost nine million people received 90,000 asylum claims in 2015, one of the EU's highest rates per capita.

The Austrian government has noticeably hardened its stance as the bloc grapples with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

In 2015, over a million people reached Europe's shores -- nearly half of them Syrians fleeing a civil war that has killed more than a quarter of a million people.

In response to the influx, Austria is due to announce this week a daily cap on migrants allowed to enter from fellow EU member Slovenia, the next country down the migrant trail along the Balkans.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=75258.

Obama planning historic trip to Cuba to cement warmer ties

February 18, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will pay an historic visit to Cuba in the coming weeks, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday, becoming the first president to set foot on the island in nearly nine decades.

The brief visit in mid-March will mark a watershed moment for relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a communist nation estranged from the U.S. for half a century until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved to relaunch more than a year ago. Since then, the nations have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana and moved to restore commercial air travel, with a presidential visit seen as a key next step toward bridging the divide.

Obama's stop in Cuba will part of a broader trip to Latin America that the president will take next month, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the trip hasn't been officially announced. The White House planned to unveil Obama's travel plans Thursday.

Though Obama had long been expected to visit Cuba in his final year, word of his travel plans drew immediate resistance from opponents of warmer ties with Cuba — including Republican presidential candidates.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father fled to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s, said Obama shouldn't visit while the Castro family remains in power. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another child of Cuban immigrants, lambasted the president for visiting what he called an "anti-American communist dictatorship."

"Today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever," Rubio said on CNN. Told of Obama's intention to visit, he added, "Probably not going to invite me."

With less than a year left in office, Obama has been eager to make rapid progress on restoring economic and diplomatic ties to cement the rapprochement with Cuba that his administration started. Following secret negotiations between their governments, Obama and Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties, and months later held the first face-to-face meeting between an American and Cuban president since 1958.

But Obama, facing steadfast opposition to normalized relations from Republicans and some Democrats, has been unable to deliver on the former Cold War foe's biggest request: the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo. Opponents argue that repealing those sanctions would reward a government still engaging in human rights abuses and stifling of democratic aspirations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Democrat born in Cuba, called the visit "absolutely shameful." "For more than 50 years, Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime," said Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress. "Yet the country which grants them refuge — the United States — has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors."

Obama and supporters of the detente argue the decades-old embargo has failed to bring about desired change on the island 90 miles south of Florida. Still, while Obama has long expressed an interest in visiting Cuba, White House officials had said the visit wouldn't occur unless and until the conditions were right.

"If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody" — including political dissidents, Obama told Yahoo News in December. "I've made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba."

Officials didn't immediately specify what had changed in the last few weeks to clear the way for the trip, first reported by ABC News. But on Tuesday, the two nations signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic as early as later this year, eliminating a key barrier to unfettered travel that isolated Cuban-Americans from their families for generations.

Hundreds of thousands more Americans are expected to visit Cuba per year under the deal, which cleared the way for the U.S. Department of Transportation to open bidding by American air carriers on as many as 110 flights a day. Currently, there are about one-fifth as many flights operating between the two countries — all charters.

For Obama, the diplomatic opening with Cuba reflects one of the crowning achievements of a foreign policy rooted in a belief that the U.S. should test opportunities to ease hostilities with its historical enemies. Last month, the Obama administration lifted economic sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, following a diplomatic deal that has raised hopes about warmer ties between the U.S. and Iran. Yet those achievements have been offset by deepening security challenges in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere as Obama nears the end of his term.

Not since President Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in January 1928 has a sitting U.S. president been to Havana, according to the State Department historian's office. President Harry Truman visited the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay on the southeast end of the island in 1948, and former President Jimmy Carter has paid multiple visits to the island since leaving office.

Panetta: US at war in Pakistan

Wed Oct 12, 2011

Amid rising anti-American sentiments in Pakistan over covert US drone raids in the Asian country, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has admitted that Washington is fighting a war on Pakistani soil.

While the US government has always declined to publicly discuss its aerial attacks in Pakistan, Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that there are a lot of reasons for the US military operations in Pakistan, AFP reported.

The American military chief, who was also the previous CIA director, said Washington and Islamabad have a "complicated relationship" because of America's war in Pakistan.

The US often carries out drone attacks on Pakistan's tribal regions, claiming that the militants are their target. But locals say civilians are the main victims of the non-UN-sanctioned US strikes.

The issue of civilian casualties has strained the relations between Islamabad and Washington with the Pakistani government repeatedly objecting to the attacks.

Attacks by unmanned American aircraft have left dozens of people dead in the volatile region over the past weeks.

The aerial attacks, initiated by former US president George W. Bush, have been escalated under President Barack Obama.

Islamabad has repeatedly condemned the attacks, insisting that they violate Pakistan's sovereignty.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://edition.presstv.ir/detail/204112.html.

Mali families criticize Saudi response to Mina tragedy

Wed Feb 17, 2016

A group of families in Mali, who lost their loved ones in the last September Hajj tragedy, are planning to file complaints against Riyadh, they lawyer says.

Marcel Ceccaldi on Tuesday criticized Saudi Arabia’s response to the deadly human crush which took place in Mina, near the Saudi city of Mecca, and said that the families of the victims are considering filing complaints against Riyadh in Mali and with the European Union.

Ceccaldi also rapped the response of the Mali government to the crush.

Some 320 pilgrims from Mali lost their lives in the Mina disaster which took place on September 24, 2015 when two large masses of pilgrims were directed by Saudi authorities toward one another and fused at a crossroads in Mina. The pilgrims were on their way to participate in the symbolic stoning of Satan in Jamarat.

Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident, but officials with Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization say about 4,700 people, including 465 Iranians, lost their lives in the tragedy.

The AP record says 2,426 pilgrims died in the incident.

Saudi Arabia has come under harsh criticism over its role and handling of the Mina incident.

Iran says Riyadh’s incompetence in handling safety at the rituals caused the deadly incident.

The Mina disaster came days after a massive construction crane collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 people and leaving over 200 others wounded.

Separately, a fire at a 15-story hotel in Mecca on September 21, 2015 forced the evacuation of some 1,500 people. A fire also broke out at another hotel in the city days earlier, which left a number of foreigners injured.

Source: PressTV.
Link: http://presstv.ir/Detail/2016/02/17/450765/Mali-Saudi-Arabia-Hajj-Mina-Mecca.

Liberians vote in second post-war presidential election

By BNO News

MONROVIA (BNO NEWS) -- Hundreds of thousands of Liberians on Tuesday took part in the second presidential and parliamentary elections since the end of its 10-year-conflict in 2003. United Nations (UN) peacekeepers were on standby for increased security.

Tuesday's elections are seen as a milestone in the African country's efforts to strengthen peace and democratic governance as sixteen candidates, including incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, are vying for the presidency. The main opponent is opposition leader Winston Tubman who is running with former football star George Weah as vice presidential candidate.

Most polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time, although a small number of stations opened later due to heavy rains or delays in receiving voter materials. At the end of the day, at 6 p.m. local time, polls closed without reports of any significant incidents.

Nearly 1.8 million people had registered to vote in Tuesday's elections, which came just days after 72-year-old Johnson Sirleaf, who is Africa's first democratically elected female president, won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to improve women's rights.

The National Elections COMMISSION (NEC) said it would begin releasing preliminary results on Thursday, with final results expected on October 26. Unofficial and incomplete results suggested a possible win for the ruling party and turnout was believed to be quite high, although no numbers were available as of Tuesday evening. If necessary, a run-off election will be held on November 8.

UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) spokesperson Yasmina Bouziane noted that this was the first time that Liberians were running their own elections. The previous elections in 2005 were managed by the UN, but this year's polls have been organized by the country's NEC.

The importance of the elections also led to UNMIL deploying more ground troops and increased air patrols to improve security and reassure Liberians as they went out to cast their vote. This turned out to be only a precaution as no major incidents were reported.

"We will be there to assist the Liberian national police who are the first and frontline for response to any incidents," Bouziane said earlier on Tuesday. "The police have been on the frontline for quite some time. They have also redoubled their efforts with regard to border patrols following the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)."

Bouziane also underlined that political campaigning in Liberia has "by and large" been peaceful since campaigning began earlier this year in July, except for some incidents of "heightened rhetoric."

Tuesday's polls marked Liberia's second democratic elections since the end of the decade-long conflict that killed nearly 150,000 people, mostly civilians, and sent 850,000 others fleeing to neighboring countries.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Source: Wire Update.
Link: http://wireupdate.com/news/liberians-vote-in-second-post-war-presidential-election.html.

Mars Express observes clusters of recent craters in Ares Vallis

Paris, France (ESA)
Oct 13, 2011

Newly released images taken by ESA's Mars Express show an unusual accumulation of young craters in the large outflow channel called Ares Vallis. Older craters have been reduced to ghostly outlines by the scouring effects of ancient water.

In the distant past, probably over 3.8 billion years ago, large volumes of water must have rushed through the Ares Vallis with considerable force. Mars Express imaged the preserved aftermath of this scene on 11 May 2011.

The prominent Oraibi crater lies in the channel and is about 32 km across. It is filled with sediments and its southern rim has been eroded by water. NASA's Pathfinder mission landed in this region in 1997, 100 km to the north of the crater and off the right-hand side of this image.

The great outflow that partially eroded Oraibi also cut stepped riverbanks and excavated parallel channels in the riverbed that indicate the flow path. Streamlined islands have been left standing above the valley floor, again indicating the direction taken by the flow.

On the floor and on the plateau to the left of the image there are a number of 'ghost craters'. These were once fully formed craters, but water or wind eroded their rims and filled them by depositing sediments.

Their presence on the plateau suggests that even that higher ground may have been at least partially overrun by flooding. The solitary mounds that can be seen likely represent the remaining sections of the plateau's original surface.

In addition to these heavily eroded, ancient features, however, there is evidence in the image for an impact on the martian surface in the much more recent past.

On the far left side of the image, parts of an ejecta blanket can be seen, made of material excavated from the ground during the formation of an impact crater. In the upper left corner of the image, there is a landslide roughly 4 km wide, probably caused by the same impact, and surrounding the landslide, single streaks of ejecta can be traced out.

Furthermore, there are numerous small craters in the image, appearing both in clusters and in aligned groups. An abundance of such craters can result when an asteroid or other projectile breaks up into many pieces in the atmosphere before crashing to the ground.

Clusters of craters may also be created when a large impact ejects rock fragments with such force that they travel from a few kilometers to hundreds of kilometers before returning to the surface, creating new impacts called secondary craters.

The clusters of craters in this image are relatively young and likely formed within the past 20 million years: erosion would have erased them if they had occurred a long time ago.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mars_Express_observes_clusters_of_recent_craters_in_Ares_Vallis_999.html.

Wet and Mild: Caltech Researchers Take the Temperature of Mars' Past

Pasadena CA (JPL)
Oct 13, 2011

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have directly determined the surface temperature of early Mars for the first time, providing evidence that's consistent with a warmer and wetter Martian past.

By analyzing carbonate minerals in a four-billion-year-old meteorite that originated near the surface of Mars, the scientists determined that the minerals formed at about 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit).

"The thing that's really cool is that 18 degrees is not particularly cold nor particularly hot," says Woody Fischer, assistant professor of geobiology and coauthor of the paper, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on October 3. "It's kind of a remarkable result."

Knowing the temperature of Mars is crucial to understanding the planet's history-its past climate and whether it once had liquid water. The Mars rovers and orbiting spacecraft have found ancient deltas, rivers, lakebeds, and mineral deposits, suggesting that water did indeed flow. Because Mars now has an average temperature of -63 degrees Celsius, the existence of liquid water in the past means that the climate was much warmer then. But what's been lacking is data that directly points to such a history.

"There are all these ideas that have been developed about a warmer, wetter early Mars," Fischer says. "But there's precious little data that actually bears on it." That is, until now.

The finding is just one data point-but it's the first and only one to date. "It's proof that early in the history of Mars, at least one place on the planet was capable of keeping an Earthlike climate for at least a few hours to a few days," says John Eiler, the Robert P. Sharp Professor of Geology and professor of geochemistry, and a coauthor of the paper. The first author is Itay Halevy, a former postdoctoral scholar who's now at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

To make their measurement, the researchers analyzed one of the oldest known rocks in the world: ALH84001, a Martian meteorite discovered in 1984 in the Allan Hills of Antarctica. The meteorite likely started out tens of meters below the Martian surface and was blown off when another meteorite struck the area, blasting the piece of Mars toward Earth.

The potato-shaped rock made Wet and Mild: Caltech Researchers Take the Temperature of Mars's Pasts in 1996 when scientists discovered tiny globules in it that looked like fossilized bacteria. But the claim that it was extraterrestrial life didn't hold up upon closer scrutiny. The origin of the globules, which contain carbonate minerals, remained a mystery.

"It's been devilishly difficult to work out the process that generated the carbonate minerals in the first place," Eiler says. But there have been countless hypotheses, he adds, and they all depend on the temperature in which the carbonates formed. Some scientists say the minerals formed when carbonate-rich magma cooled and crystallized.

Others have suggested that the carbonates grew from chemical reactions in hydrothermal processes. Another idea is that the carbonates precipitated out of saline solutions. The temperatures required for all these processes range from above 700 degrees Celsius in the first case to below freezing in the last. "All of these ideas have merit," Eiler says.

Finding the temperature through independent means would therefore help narrow down just how the carbonate might have been formed. The researchers turned to clumped-isotope thermometry, a technique developed by Eiler and his colleagues that has been used for a variety of applications, including measuring the body temperatures of dinosaurs and determining Earth's climate history.

In this case, the team measured concentrations of the rare isotopes oxygen-18 and carbon-13 contained in the carbonate samples. Carbonate is made out of carbon and oxygen, and as it forms, the two rare isotopes may bond to each other-clumping together, as Eiler calls it. The lower the temperature, the more the isotopes tend to clump. As a result, determining the amount of clumping allows for a direct measurement of temperature.

The temperature the researchers measured-18 +/- 4 degrees Celsius-rules out many carbonate-formation hypotheses. "A lot of ideas that were out there are gone," Eiler says. For one, the mild temperature means that the carbonate must have formed in liquid water. "You can't grow carbonate minerals at 18 degrees other than from an aqueous solution," he explains.

The new data also suggests a scenario in which the minerals formed from water that filled the tiny cracks and pores inside rock just below the surface. As the water evaporated, the rock outgassed carbon dioxide, and the solutes in the water became more concentrated. The minerals then combined with dissolved carbonate ions to produce carbonate minerals, which were left behind as the water continued to evaporate.

Could this wet and warm environment have been a habitat for life? Most likely not, the researchers say. These conditions wouldn't have existed long enough for life to grow or evolve-it would have taken only hours to days for the water to dry up.

Still, these results are proof that an Earthlike environment once existed in at least one particular spot on Mars for a short time, the researchers say. What that implies for the global geology of Mars-whether this rock is representative of Martian history or is just an isolated artifact-is an open question.

The research described in the PNAS paper, "Carbonates in the Martian meteorite Allan Hills 84001 formed at 18 +/- 4 degrees C in a near-surface aqueous environment," was supported by a Texaco Postdoctoral Fellowship, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Wet_and_Mild_Caltech_Researchers_Take_the_Temperature_of_Mars_Past_999.html.

Iran snubs Doha proposal, won't freeze on oil output level

February 17, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A senior Iranian Oil Ministry official says his country won't freeze its oil output but will keep increasing crude exports until it reaches levels attained before international sanctions were imposed on Tehran.

The remarks by Mahdi Asali, Iran's OPEC envoy, are a direct snub to a proposed cap to crude oil production that was agreed to by four oil-producing countries during a meeting the day before in Qatar. Asali says the fall in oil prices should be blamed on oversupply and that it's up to Saudi Arabia and others to cut down production to boost oil prices.

Iran has already announced plans to increase its oil production by 500,000 barrels per day after sanctions were lifted last month under a landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

West Leads in Wielding Veto Powers at Security Council

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2011 (IPS) - When Russia and China exercised a rare double veto against a Western resolution aimed at punishing Syria, the two big powers were repeating a similar feat derailing two earlier resolutions: one against Myanmar (Burma) in 2007 and the other against Zimbabwe in 2008.

The Myanmar resolution was critical of that country’s deplorable human rights record, while the Zimbabwe resolution threatened to cut off arms sales to the beleaguered regime of President Robert Mugabe (who was being beefed up with both Chinese and Russian weapons).

Both Western-inspired resolutions were double-vetoed by Russia and China in an attempt to protect their allies – just as much as the last five U.S. vetoes (during 2004-2011) in the Security Council were meant to protect Israel.

The vetoed resolutions either condemned Israel for building settlements in occupied territories or were critical of its devastating military operations in Gaza.

But in the annals of the Security Council, Tuesday’s double veto is apparently not a political monopoly held by the Russians and the Chinese.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco who has done extensive research on voting patterns in the Security Council, told IPS, “Actually, it is the United States and its allies (UK and France) that hold the record for double (and triple) vetoes”.

There have been 23 double vetoes by the U.S. and UK and 13 triple vetoes by the U.S., UK and France, he said.

Most of them, he pointed out, were in regard to sanctions and related matters involving South Africa, Namibia or Rhodesia in the 1970s and 1980s.

The last triple veto was in 1989, in a resolution deploring the U.S. invasion of Panama. (UK and France also had two double vetoes during the 1956 Suez crisis.)

“I think it is worth pointing out that the United States holds the U.N. record in terms of vetoing resolutions threatening or imposing sanctions against governments engaged in human rights abuses as well as of resolutions simply deploring or condemning such governments,” Zunes said.

Although a majority of the Council members – nine out of 15 – voted in favour of Tuesday’s resolution (qualifying it to be adopted), the two vetoes negated the positive result.

The draft resolution, which strongly condemned the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by Syrian authorities, drew positive votes from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, Portugal, the UK and the United States.

The countries abstaining were India, Brazil, South Africa (known collectively as IBSA) and Lebanon.

The resolution, which had been co-sponsored by France, Germany, Portugal and the UK, also called on Syria to immediately cease the use of force against civilians.

If Syria failed to do so within 30 days, the Security Council would consider “other options” (a euphemism for economic and military sanctions).

Asked about the failed resolution, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Wednesday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “regrets” that the Council failed to adopt the resolution.

But he hopes the divisions will be overcome.

“We have a moral obligation to avoid further bloodshed and help the people of Syria out of this crisis,” Ban was quoted as saying.

He also reiterated that the violence in Syria – from any quarter – cannot continue.

Since mid-March, an estimated 2,700 people have been killed in Syria, according to the United Nations.

Syria’s growing protest movement is part of a wider uprising across North Africa and the Middle East this year.

Zunes told IPS that the double-veto was definitely a reaction to the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to go way beyond the U.N. Security Council mandate earlier this year to authorize force to protect Libyan civilians and to instead become an active participant in the civil war.

He said he found it interesting that four non-permanent members – Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa – abstained.

Asked whether Libya was the reason for failure of the Security Council resolution, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters, “I think this is an excuse.”

“I think the vast majority of countries, even today, on the Council that were not able to vote in favour of this text know that this was a resolution that, in substance, was unobjectionable,” she said.

And their decisions to vote as they did, she said, may have had a lot less to do with the text than it did with some effort to maintain solidarity among a certain group of countries.

“So I think Libya has been beat to death, overused, and misused as an excuse for countries not to take up their responsibilities with respect to Syria,” Rice said.

Asked whether diplomacy had reached a dead-end on Syria, she refuted the argument by pointing out that the majority of members would have supported a sanctions resolution.

And the countries in the region are, every day, coalescing and raising their voices against what is transpiring in Syria, she added.

“This is not, as some would like to pretend, a Western issue. We had countries all over the world supporting this resolution today, and we have countries throughout the region who’ve been very clear that the brutality of the (Bashar) al-Assad regime has to end and that the behavior of the regime is absolutely intolerable.”

The two dissenting countries – Russia and China – took a strong stand on their vetoes.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia said his country did not support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but the draft resolution would not promote a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The majority of Syrians, he said, wanted gradual political change, rather than quick regime change, and the text of the resolution did not adequately take into account the behavior of extremist groups in opposition to Syrian authorities.

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said the draft resolution was overly focused on exerting pressure on Syria, and included the threat of sanctions, which would not resolve the situation.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/10/west-leads-in-wielding-veto-powers-at-security-council/.